SKIP/SALVAGE is true to its name. The exhibiting artists have salvaged many materials others might skip, incorporating them into their work in ways that are both technically and emotionally innovative. Many of these materials are drawn from spaces for manufacturing or domesticity, but are re-contextualized through clever spatial and material manipulation.
The brainchild of Audrée Anid and Rachel Tretter, SKIP/SALVAGE is the curating duo’s inaugural exhibition at RATA Projects. “RATA Projects grew out of a need and desire to give emerging artists a voice in the very competitive arts landscape of New York City,” Anid writes. She and Tretter are entering the playing field with a strong hand. SKIP/SALVAGE speaks to the current moment; in a society where images are consumed and discarded with the swipe of a thumb, these works force the viewer to pause and look closer. Their layered construction calls for contemplation.
I am drawn to artist Jack Henry’s multi-dimensional wall sculptures. ALR 1124 (Lave 2) recalls the eroded surface of a cave wall, both smooth and chipped from water’s retreat. The variety of textures renders the work tantalizing; I yearn to feel the patch of milky pink and grey. Its creamy coloring accesses the synesthetic part of my brain.
Where this smooth finish has been chipped away, a layer of marked plaster remains. It resembles a mountain range from above. These spots are equally as arresting because they hint at something hidden beneath the surface.
In other places, negative space is carved by peninsulas of jagged plaster. Explains Anid, it is this combination of “solidity and negative space [that] creates sculptures that feel both light and heavy simultaneously.” She also compares them to meteors, their texture recalling the otherworldly.
This association is interesting to me because Henry utilizes found objects, drawn from the very streets of New York City, to create his work. It is a testament to the artist’s ability to transform materials that his work recalls the transcendental.
Hidden in ALR 1124 (Lave 2) and ALR 1118 are bits of metal, string, and velcro. Henry utilizes plaster to form his molds, from which he tears away plastic bags to create negative space. Anid notes that the seemingly mundane quality of these materials is integral to Henry’s work. “He recasts objects relegated to the margins into poetic moments,” she says.
There is poetry in elevating the mundane. The Dada-ists reveled in this practice, as did Pablo Neruda, whose odes celebrated objects as commonplace as socks. In ALR 1118, a tangled mess of wires takes on a key role, suggesting the materiality of the work’s internal structure.
In dialogue with Henry is artist Vincent Dermody, who is exhibiting several of his bulbous sculptures at SKIP/SALVAGE. Writes Anid, “Both are masters of embedding objects into seemingly unpliable materials.” The resulting works draw some of their visual interest from their layered quality, and the partially obscured objects peeking out from plaster and paint.
Dermody’s ‘memory jugs’ are drawn from an Appalachian art form in which symbolic objects were stuck to containers with cement or putty. Dermody’s jugs function as a sculptural scrapbook of memories and anxieties, though his are not meant for mere documentary purposes.
“They are grave markers dedicated to mental illness and alcoholism,” the artist explains, “but they are more about healing than grieving.” This duality illuminates a thought I’d had while examining Orange Oracle.
I’d been focused on the colored concrete dripped over the found objects, tying them together in a putrid goo. I wondered if this substance was a positive or negative force. After all, I could interpret it as a mold or fungus, trapping the artist’s memories in a layer of static evil. But there was also a chance that the substance was like a scab covering to protect a wound. Healing is rarely pretty, whether it is a protective crust for the skin or a lifetime of struggling to find peace of mind.
I think it would be regressive to force either analogy completely. Instead, I choose to see the work as a metaphor for the artist’s relationship with both healing and grieving. In Orange Oracle, both dolls’ heads and writhing snakes are coated in soft orange goo, suggesting that Dermody has lost memories and moments due to his struggle, but that he has also conquered demons. The snake’s tail peeks out from the bottom of the work, a pesky appendage too easy to trip on. Perhaps this is Dermody’s personal reminder to keep moving forward, and to watch his step.
Lastly, I’d like to take a look at Alex Valls’ evocative collection of sculptures, Pipe Piece I, II, III, and IV. Her works are available (and can therefore be analyzed) individually, but I am mesmerized by their power as a set. Each sculpture situates a ceramic figure within an individual pipe remnant. II and III have a voyeueristic quality. I sense that they are watching us from a submarine periscope, sending information back down the pipe to an undisclosed control room. In I and IV, the voyeurism is reversed. I feel that I am watching the figures’ during a private moment. Such is the purpose of pipes– to collect content from one space and transmit it to another.
Valls is very focused on place. “The objects reference the area in which they are found and presented,” she explains, “yet [they allow] for a reconsideration of their future.” With this in mind, it is impossible not to think of New York City’s rapidly changing landscape. Voices against gentrification have been loud as rising rents have continued to displace residents and business-owners from their long-time neighborhoods. Though the issue has long been prevalent (there was a time when the West Village wasn’t expensive!!) social media has given its activists a larger platform.
The Pipe Piece series captures NYC at this moment of transition. Pipes thrown out on the street are a byproduct of construction debris, as homes are torn down to make space for fancy new high-rises and Whole Foods.
The cracked ceramics faces, retreating into history like ancient statues, look out at us mournfully from this debris. Others embrace, clinging to life as it crumbles around them.
SKIP/SALVAGE is rich with materiality, though the medium of each work is still a vessel for narration. “I tend towards works that have a narrative,” Tretter says, “as opposed to [those] purely focused on material or technique.” She also emphasizes that open-ended works appeal strongly, as they “allow viewers to approach with their own unique experiences or associations.” This direction is clear throughout SKIP/SALVAGE, as each artist’s work is ripe with significance without ever becoming dogmatic.
SKIP/SALVAGE opened July 25th and closes tomorrow, August 18. The exhibition will be open tomorrow from noon until 6pm, with a special closing party from 6-9pm. Stop by to see these and more incredible, material works in person.
Out of town? Be sure to follow @rata_projects on instagram to stay updated on Anid and Tretter’s latest curatorial projects.
Until next time!